Compassion is the emotion that we feel in response to the suffering of others. The Golden Rule often embodies, by implication, the principle of compassion: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Ranked as a great virtue in numerous philosophies, compassion is considered among the greatest of virtues.
The following excerpts from an article entitled “Compassion and the Individual” contain some thoughts of His Holiness, the fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet, on the meaning and importance of compassion:
“I believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment. From my own limited experience, I have found that the greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion. The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater our own sense of well-being becomes.
Cultivating a close, warm-hearted feeling for others … is the ultimate source of success in life …The need for love lies at the very foundation of human existence. It results from the profound interdependence we all share with one another. When you recognize that all beings are equal in both their desire for happiness and their right to obtain it, you automatically feel empathy and closeness for them.
Because we all share an identical need for love, it is possible to feel that anybody we meet, in whatever circumstances, is a brother or sister. No matter how new the face or how different the dress and behavior, there is no significant division between us and other people. I believe that at every level of society—familial, tribal, national and international—the key to a happier and more successful world is the growth of compassion.”
What is perhaps most remarkable about compassion is not just what it does for those who receive it, but what it does for those who practice it. Scientific studies indicate that people who practice compassion produce 100 percent more DHEA—a hormone that counteracts the aging process and also decreases the stress hormone cortisol.
An experiment by Michael Norton, published in Science, shows that people tend to be happier when they give money to others than when they spend it on themselves. Elizabeth Dunn, in a recent study, also found a similar phenomenon in children as young as two years old.
Practicing compassion has been found to improve your health by strengthening your immune system, normalizing your blood pressure, lowering your stress and depression, improving your recovery from illness, and even extending your life. The true power of compassion is far greater than most of us can imagine.
Practice compassion by doing something small each day to help others, even in a tiny way. Offer a smile or a kind word, do an errand or chore for someone in need, or just listen to another person talk about a problem. Try to do something positive for someone else. Try to ease someone’s suffering.
Practice mindfulness while practicing compassion. Mindfulness means being present in the moment. It means being aware of and opening your heart to the suffering of others and appreciating the wonders of nature. Try to make compassion and mindfulness daily practices. Try to make them lifetime practices. The more compassionate you are and the more mindful and authentic you are, the more you and others will benefit.
Seppala, Emma. May/June 2013. “The Compassionate Mind.”
Association for Psychological Science.
Seppala, Emma. June 3, 2013. “Compassion: Our First Instinct.”
Psychology Today. com. At https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/feeling-it/201306/compassion-our-first-instinct.